By Jonathan Abang-Ugbal
“Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.” – Thomas Jefferson.
The history of the press in Nigeria is one that can be incorporated as a course for study in the country’s tertiary institutions due to the fact that it has been hailed, abused, encouraged and oppressed by the clergy, nobility and commoners in all strata of the society.
The recent years when subjected to an analysis of what is taught in classrooms – the normative theories will definitely leave a journalism student scratching her or his scalp to answer.
This piece is not intended for that educational purpose, it is rather, an attempt by the writer to question the way of reasoning of not just public office holders in our beloved country, but, their enablers, apologists, supporters and whatever term is used to describe suit and agbada wearing sycophants who keep praising the woes that have befallen us and those that would betide.
My focus narrows to the recent happenings especially as it concerns Mr Samuel Ogundipe, a reporter with Premium Times.
I woke to reports that he has been marked to be the next star of the irregular but consistent series; “The Crime Called Journalism” with the regular producers remaining the federal government due to his decision to ‘obey the law’ and exercise a fundamental right enshrined in section 39 of the 1999 constitution of our dear federal republic (yes, as amended).
These laughable, despicable and heinous actions of public office holders which their mouthpiece, the government owned broadcaster reported was false should leave every Nigerian worried.
The attempts to liken his situation to that of Edward Snowden is a dangerous narrative we must nip at the bud. While Snowden had worked for the American government and leaked documents to Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, Mr Ogundipe works for a private media outfit and reported on leaked documents. He is duty bound to protect his sources.
The Americans never laid siege on either Der Spiegel or the New York Times, the Central Intelligence Agency investigated and found the leaks were carried out by Snowden. But, in my dear country, a siege is laid on a media house, the editor’s residence is visited by strange looking fellows and a stake out is been done on the house of Mr Ogundipe. The government must be concerned about the security of these journalists!
It is disturbing that neither the contents of Mr Ogundipe reportage on the feud between the National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno, a former commander of the Guards Brigade and Chief of Defense intelligence with (like the military puts it) ‘a bloody civilian’ Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari have been denied nor have they generated a serious debate about those whom taxpaying Nigerians entrust governance and the security of lives and properties in their hands!
What is wrong with us?
The next reportage was on the decision of the Chief of Army Staff to transfer over two dozen top military personnel from the office or the national security adviser without replacements. Haba! We can’t pretend these actions are detrimental to the war against terrorism or is it insurgency? (whatever name it is called now), banditry, kidnapping, daredevil robberies; the list is endless. The impact of that on foreign direct investments, investors’ perception – you name it!
We cannot allow the question of whether Mr. Ogundipe broke the law or not to dominate public discourse. We should rather commend him for having the courage to go against all odds and report on such sensitive issues that affect the lives of every Nigerian and those resident in the country.
The actions of the law enforcement agencies are clearly deliberate acts by a privileged few to oppress, shrink the civic space and instil fear in the minds of journalists to desist from reporting on actions that beat suggest excesses of individuals who hide under the auspices of policies to achieve personal goals.
If the leaders are uncomfortable, they should not carry out acts that when reported, will go viral and are perceived negative. If that happens, they should take it in good faith and do the right thing instead of chasing after shadows.
The case of Mr Ogundipe is clear. The government chewed a bone and got cut, now it is accusing the bone of being guilty of assault.
It was Farida Waziri, a former Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission who at a workshop in Kaduna in 2009 averred that: “Having dealt with many corruption cases, I am inclined to suggest that public officers should be subjected to some form of psychiatric evaluation to determine their suitability for public office.”
With the increasing attempts to gag the press, it is only fitting we ask whether the enablers, supporters and apologists of the government who have in the past 48 hours supported the siege on Premium Times and the attempt to bundle Mr Ogundipe into detention, have the mental ability to understand the issues at stake.
However they understand it, it should be noted also that, when a child stools consistently, the adult does not get mad and beats the child, but examines, treats and takes steps to prevent the stooling.
I will leave you with the words of Ahmet Sik, recipient of the 2014 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano world press freedom prize. He said, “To silence journalists is equivalent to silencing the people as a whole.”
Dear ‘Federal Government of Nigeria,’ journalism is not a crime; leave Samuel Ogundipe alone!
Jonathan Abang-Ugbal is a journalist and writes from Cross River State.